Sunday, November 09, 2008


I have just essentially finished a draft of a conference paper for later this week. As always, I write in a kind of fog, finding my meaning as I go. The result is more severely damaged than usual this time, and I have basically ended the paper on a completely different note than I started on. After having installed about five different things as the major theme along the way. So the process of writing went like this, essentially, and this is reflected in the complete draft I have now:

"This paper identifies foxes as the operative concept. But in fact, the great significance of this is that is about marigolds. Actually, the over-arching point of all this is humidifiers. One sees, thus, that this is most usefully read as a comment on whaling. Finally, the belatedness of the birthday emerges as the dominant concept."

Augh!!!! I have finally arrived at something I like ('the belatedness of the birthday') but the thought of revisiting and substantially revising the rest of this terrifically difficult paper to support that theme makes me want to tear my hair out.

So. I hate writing conference papers. There. I've said it. Something happens in the process that is different from when I just write, say, for publication. I wonder if this insane directionlessness that is much more characteristic of conference-paper-writing, for me, is the result of imagining my audience in a different way from the way I do when I write something that will not be presented aloud. I remain a very nervous presenter - that does not seem to be diminishing at all, unfortunately. And so I am wondering if those nerves play themselves out in an excessively jittery, unfocused approach to writing the actual papers for presentation.


Maggie said...

I don't know-- to my mind, this is exactly the purpose of at least one kind of conference paper: to begin to think through the problem out loud, and with an audience. And I love your pretend examples. I'd read a paper on those things!

medieval woman said...

Yeah, I agree with Maggie on this - I think this is exactly the kind of conference paper that encourages real responses b/c it's not perfect and polished! You can reign it in a bit this week and then toos it out there as something new and slightly inchoate. And I, too, am still totally nervous when I present - you'll be awesome!

Sisyphus said...

_All_ of my writing is like this, frankly, which is why revising is just as much work and difficulty as drafting for me. But I love the loopy way all the examples connect! However, I am a fan of surrealism, so, maybe another go-through is in order.

Brigindo said...

Interesting thought. In my field I don't generally have to write a paper for a conference. I put together power point slides that may or may not have extensive note and then I speak off the top of my head. I generally don't spend a lot of time imagining my audience when I prepare my slides but do so right before I present when pulling my "talk" together, if that makes any sense.

What is difficult is translating that talk into a paper afterwards.

m(mmm) said...

Like Sisyphus, I do this all the time, too. And I hate conference papers, conference presentations, conference panels, conference departmental parties, etc.

Like Maggie said, your description is priceless and made me laugh out loud.

Hilaire said...

Yeah, Maggie and MW, you're right - but I am too freaked out to be able to calmly contemplate feedback, dialogue about my paper. I'm always happy when nobody asks me any questions because my work is sometimes impenetrable and obscure. That's a bad attitude, but what can I say? I am a terrible public speaker. I'm with m(mmm) - I really hate the whole shebang of the conference...except for seeing friends and colleagues - which is going to be the highlight this time, definitely.

I'm glad my ridiculous list of themes provided some amusement - believe me when I say that in its current state, my paper is even more circuitous. Sigh.

Maude Lebowski said...

i can only say that i wish the paper about the marigolds, foxes, whaling, and belated birthdays were real! honestly, it would be like the best conference paper ever! i love it!

good luck.